AN article in The National about community broadband in Scotland endorsed a Highland group’s plans to set up their own network – and now they are hoping they could set a path for others to follow.

More than 1,400 homes and businesses in Ullapool, Lochbroom, Little Lochbroom, Coigach, Gruinard

Bay and Elphin are set to experience superfast internet speeds thanks to a community broadband initiative.

Building the network has started after more than 200 local “founder subscribers” raised a total of £85,000 for the scheme.

Highland Community Broadband (HCB) has been formed by local residents with the help of Ullapool

Community Trust (UCT) to ensure that rural areas can get superfast broadband.

The HCB network, which covers an area that includes a total of 1,434 residential premises, is scheduled to go live in January. Founder subscribers will receive priority installation while standard subscribers will be able to register from the beginning of February.

The network is being developed and run by HCB, and uses wireless technology rather than cables, so the speed is the same wherever the service is located. Around 650 connections will be managed by a local team and the project’s customer services department will be run by local staff who will be trained to provide technical support.

Sandy Mackenzie, from Lochside, a founder subscriber, said: “Besides the attraction of reliable superfast broadband, I became a founder subscriber because I support the idea of community-funded infrastructure projects which benefit the whole community.

“Even if some people cannot offer the lump sum to become a founder subscriber they can join the scheme when it is up and running.

“It will also encourage the retention and relocation of young people and families, which will mean existing services and local small businesses continue to be used and will help develop new businesses and enable existing ones to flourish.”

The scheme has 209 founder subscribers in 219 premises, and 84 per cent of the total raised came from residential founder subscribers, who each put in £400.

HCB director Duncan Cook said: “This demonstrates how the commun- ity responded to the idea of a local project created without the need for large subscribers or those from outside the area and that lived up to the maxim ‘Of us, by us and for us’.”

It is estimated building the infrastructure will take six months and will cost £164,500. HCB has raised £85,000 to fund the first phase of the enterprise, installation of which will cover operating costs, and will extend the network with future revenues.

The scheme aims to connect 650 homes by July and 850 by the end of 2017. HCB will offer next-generation access as a standard service, with unlimited downloads, up to 50Mbps download speeds and an upload speed of up to 20Mbps. Customers will be charged £25 per month plus a one-off £100 installation fee. A low-user tariff will also be available at £20 per month, also with a one-off installation fee.

The roll-out will start in Ullapool, before moving on to Southern Lochbroom, Northern Lochbroom, Little Lochbroom, Gruinard Bay, Coigach and finally Elphin.

HCB said it also intended to establish a technology hub and business incubator in the centre of Ullapool, which is planned to have a 1Gbps connection to capitalise on the new high-speed broadband. The project aims to benefit the local community and businesses by helping provide funding for new businesses.

Any profits from the scheme will be redistributed into community organisations as well as funding new businesses.

HCB has based the initiative on similar rural broadband schemes, including Skyenet in Skye, Applenet in Applecross and Locheilnet in Loch Eil.